Talking Points

The neocons strike back?

President Biden is attempting to extricate the U.S. from the wars we have been fighting since shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost 20 years ago. He may end up inadvertently reviving the foreign-policy perspective that kept those wars going for so long, at least among Republicans.

Inside the GOP, the path of least resistance is to oppose whatever Biden does abroad as feckless and weak. As my colleague notes, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly. Kabul may soon evoke images of the fall of Saigon. Hawks are chirping loudly that exiting Afghanistan after two decades is the biggest foreign-policy mistake since … retrenchment in Iraq.

Neoconservatives, the wildest subspecies of hawk, appeared to have been driven out by Donald Trump as completely as the Afghan military from a provincial capital. Bill Kristol, Washington Post columnists Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, and a coterie of John McCain and George W. Bush campaign alumni functionally became Democrats. John Bolton, who shares the neocons' predilection for regime change but not their faith in democratic nation-building, saw his standing in the GOP diminished after being sacked as Trump's national security adviser and writing a tell-all book. The former president's press secretary dismissed Bolton on Fox News as a "complete and utter disaster" — and a "warmonger."

Most of the personalities mentioned above are too far gone in MSNBC land to make a Republican comeback. But the view that all was well with our Middle East military adventures until Biden started pulling out is already returning, and there are plenty of would-be 2024 candidates who were never sold on a less interventionist Republicanism in the first place. Even Trump, who wanted out of Afghanistan months ago, said in a statement, "What is going on now is not acceptable."

Kabul's fall will be a humanitarian and public relations disaster, even if the winnable portion of the war for the U.S. concluded years ago. It may be a setback for those who don't want to repeat it. The best case scenario is that Republicans do with Afghanistan and Iraq what they did for two decades after Vietnam: praise the mission, blame the Democrats for losing the war — and avoid doing anything like it. That would be a true neo-Reaganite foreign policy.